Close-ups (foliage)

This series of close-ups shows the progression of my stitching technique and style over 20 years of illustrating children’s books. The first picture shows a detail of the banana trail that Savi the elephant follows through the jungle in The Way Home (1991). Read the story about making The Way Home here.

from "The Way Home" 1991

I made a stencil and painted grass on the velveteen background in The Way Home‘s sequel, Come to my Party (1993).

from "Come to My Party" 1993

Jump ahead a dozen years and I’m embroidering blades of grass and sewing glass beads to a wool felt background in the board book, Hey! Diddle, Diddle.

detail from "Hey! Diddle, Diddle" 2005

And still obsessing over french knots in Jack and Jill.

detail from "Jack and Jill" 2006

This one shows a small section of the illustration from the song One misty moisty morning in my most recent book, POCKETFUL OF POSIES . If you are having difficulty finding a copy of the book, it’s because the first printing has sold out. My local bookstore, Eight Cousins, stocked up, so they might still have some (508.548.5548). The situation will soon be remedied, as the second printing will arrive from Hong Kong in mid-January.

detail from "Pocketful of Posies" 2010

Eight Cousins bookstore & more wee folk centerpiece

Carol Chittenden from Eight Cousins bookstore asked me to come in and sign another box of books. She sold out of the copies of Pocketful of Posies I signed last week, so I was more than happy to sign some more. To order autographed copies call Eight Cousins at (508) 548-5548. Judy Richardson and I went by this morning after our dance aerobics class at the Rec center. 19 years ago, Judy and I celebrated the publication of  our book, The Way Home. Read about the making of our book on earlier posts starting here. We gathered in the back room at Eight Cousins.  

Carol Chittenden, Judy Richardson and Salley

 I signed a book for Judy’s relatives, a family with a boy and twin girls.

   

Out front, my book was in good company, next to a card board display of David Wiesner’s new book, Art and Max. David and I were both illustration majors at RISD, class of ’78. He was quiet and serious, but had a bold, determined side. I remember a mural he painted on the wall in the house he shared with some friends of mine. It was a huge copy of one of Henri Rouseau’s fantasy jungle scenes. I saw David at a RISD reunion a few years ago and was happy to see that he was still as kind and friendly as he’s used to be.  

In the recent post about my book release party at Highfield Hall (see here), I said that I hadn’t taken any pictures of the wee folk centerpiece. Well, Carol from Eight Cousins was thinking clearly enough to take some, so here are her photos of the me setting up refreshments in the dining room. 

 

Closeups (summer trees)

Before summer passes us by, I’ve gathered a group of trees from my artwork to show. The first one is a crayon drawing on lined paper from 1963, when I was 8 years old.

crayon on lined paper, 1963, age 8

Jumping ahead 20 years, this tree is from an early fabric relief picture called “Jumping Girl”. My obsession with embroidering leaves was underway!

detail from “Jumping Girl” 1985

This is from my first children’s book, The Way Home, published in 1991. By this time, I’d started making branches with thread wrapped wire. Read the story of the making of the book here.

detail from “The Way Home” 1991

Here’s a faux tile I made for my kitchen in 1990. See the other tiles in an earlier post here.

Faux Tile, 1990

About 10 years ago, I started using more felt and appliqued this tree trunk to the dyed cotton velveteen sky in my book, The Hollyhock Wall.

detail from “The Hollyhock Wall ” 1999

Now, I’m using felt almost exclusively. The next 2 details of trees are from my picture book, Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes.

detail from “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

I incorporated many found objects in the “Posies” book and here’s a glimpse of  driftwood and bark buildings, with a tree between.

detail from “Pocketful of Posies” 2010

Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.

Mushroom houses

  

These mushroom house have been packed away for over 30 years and earlier this spring I brought them outside and took some pictures. I made them for a story that was included in an elementary school text book. This was my first real illustration job after graduation from art school. I recently wrote about the project  in a post about my first picture book, The Way Home, here.  

from "The Great Cleanup" 1979

The Great Cleanup was a story about some ecologically minded insects who organized a recycling effort to reuse the trash that was dumped on their neighborhood. I’ll show some pictures of the insects in a future post. 

from "The Great Cleanup" 1979

  

I was still using my Singer Featherweight back then, which was good for top stitching and maneuvering around tight corners. There was plenty of hand stitching, too, around the mushroom cap roofs and front landings.  

  

The houses are 8 ” to 9″ tall and the stems are hollow, with walls of 1/2″ foam rubber. The caps are filled with fiber fill stuffing.  

  

I can remember picking out textured and knobby fabric for the stems, caps and chimneys. It was good to dust them off and display them in the grass. 

The Way Home Giveaway Winners

Thank you to all of you who read the 5-part story about my first book, The Way Home. Congratulations to the 3 winners of the giveaway! Nancy, Nikki and Carol have been selected at random and will each receive a signed copy of The Way Home. I had a lot of fun piecing together the past and would like to continue writing more stories about my other books, so keep visiting!

The Way Home (part 5)

 Continued from The Way Home (part 4)  

The book was now in production at MacMillan and it would be a year before we would see bound copies of The Way Home. There was a lot for the publisher’s staff to do; select and set the type, write the book jacket flaps, prepare the pages for the printer and arrange the printing in Hong Kong. Judy and I were so excited to see the first printing proofs. We felt this was also proof that our years-long project was really going to become a book!  

The Way Home, pages 26/27

I learned that producing a book is a lot more complicated than one might think. Everyone involved, the writer, the illustrator, the editors, the production staff and the sales department all play an important part. I was also impressed that everyone I met during the process truly loved children’s books.  

The Way Home, page 30

 In the spring of 1991, boxes of  The Way Home arrived and Judy and I celebrated its publication at the Woods Hole Library, with a party and book signing. You can see an earlier post about the library quilt I worked on here. We shared the event with Molly Bang, whose book, The Yellow Ball, was coming out the same spring. Our friend, Terry (who gave me her daughter’s pants) made a cake for the occasion. She decorated it with marzipan elephants and a yellow ball made of frosting.  

setting up for the book party

Terry's cake

Molly, Judy and Salley signing books

We were so proud of  The Way Home and did what we could to promote the book. We had our picture taken with an elephant that came through town for the county fair.  

Judy and Salley with elephant at fair, 1991

We gave talks, did book signings and visited schools. Judy led banana poem workshops with children and I’d have them sew and stuff yellow felt bananas.  

Judy visiting a preschool

 Our book did pretty well for an unknown author and illustrator and came out in paperback the next year. Later, Judy and I collaborated on a sequel, Come to My Party, which MacMillan published in 1993. In this book, the red bird character is named Harold and co-stars with Savi in another adventure.  

Harold in an illustration from "Come to My Party"

 Both books have long been out of print and I can remember how surprised Judy and I were to get the letter telling us the news. Being new to the book business, we did not know how common it is for children’s books to go out of print. We’ve since learned that only the very best sellers are reprinted and stay available.  

Salley at a book signing (note the elephant earrings!)

 All in all, the best part about publishing a book was when we heard from parents who said their children wanted The Way Home read over and over. Even today, we meet grown up children who remember Savi and the banana trail. I’m still friends with Judy and Molly and am grateful to have had their help and encouragement throughout the years, but especially in the beginning, 27 years ago, when we all were inspired by a little elephant named Savi.  

The End

Give-away Notice: I am offering a give-away to 3 of my readers in the USA. The prizes are autographed, paperback copies of The Way Home. To qualify, please leave a comment on this post by March 31st. The 3 winners will be picked at random.  

The Way Home, back cover

The Way Home (part 4)

 Continued from The Way Home (part 3)   

I added the little bird character late in the design phase. Savi seemed so alone on the beach after her mother leaves and I thought she needed an escort of sorts. Cecelia Yung, the art director, liked the addition and wrote, “About the bird: maybe he can be her “guardian angel”-someone who hovers protectively so that she’s never truly alone. He would be a comforting presence for the child who worries when Savi is alone in the dark. Maybe he can make his appearance when Savi’s mother leaves?”     

sketches of birds for "The Way Home"

The Way Home, page 18

   A few months before the artwork was due, I faced the inevitable and admitted that I would not be able to make the one year deadline. I called Cecilia and told her that I needed more time. She was understanding enough to extend the publication date another 6 months.  

The Way Home, page 20

 Through the fall and winter, I added the finishing touches, stitching blades of grass and hand sewing the floss edge around the border sections.     

sketch of pages 16/17

The Way Home, pages 16/17

    I was particularly fussy about the shadows, which were made up of different colored stitches. I kept thinking of something my teacher, Mahler Ryder had said years earlier at RISD, that shadows are not black, but are made up of colors.     

The Way Home, pages 16/17 detail

  I was saving the book jacket illustration for last and imagined how it would look while I stitched the other pages. I took a mental inventory of what materials would be needed and was shocked to discover I’d forgotten about the sky fabric. I had used every last inch of Peter’s overalls on the inside artwork. I had none left for the cover illustration, the most important of all! This was a drawback of working with unconventional materials. If I worked in watercolor, this would never happen!    

sketch of cover illustration for "The Way Home"

   I had dealt with insufficient supplies before. I would have to find something similar, but the weave and shade were unique to an older line of Osh Gosh clothing. before I could work myself into a tizzy, the same fabric literally walked into view.    

Molly's pants back

My friend, Terry came over with her 2-year old daughter, Molly, who was wearing a pair of jeans made out of the same light blue fabric! Terry is a seamstress and fabric lover, so she was not at all surprised when I asked her if I could have Molly’s pants when she outgrew them, which appeared to be imminent. I’ve kept the pants and when I hold them up at talks, they always get a reaction from both young and old audiences.  

in my studio finishing the illustrations for "The Way Home"

 The extra 6 months made it possible for me to finish by the new  deadline in the Spring of ’90. I packed up the illustrations and shipped them to New York. After the editors at MacMillan had a chance to look them over, Cecilia drove the artwork over to Gamma One in the city. Gamma One has a “painting with light” system that works well for textured work. During the minutes-long exposure time, light moves slowly back and forth, helping to define the dimensionality of the art. The 8 x 10 color transparencies were then color corrected to match my original art.  

The Way Home, page 32

 Cecilia suggested we put an explanation of my technique on the last page.

It reads,

“The original pictures for this book were made in fabric relief. This art form includes many techniques, including applique, embroidery, wrapping, dyeing, and soft sculpture. The background fabric was dyed and then sewed together. Three-dimensional pieces were made from a variety of materials, including covered and stuffed cardboard shapes, wrapped wire, found objects, and fabric. Details were embroidered onto the shapes and background and then the three-dimensional shapes were sewn into place. All stitching was done by hand.” 

To be continued in The Way Home (part 5). 

A Giveaway will be announced at the end of part 5.